WRITTEN BY: Mo Juenger, World News Editor
With the onset of the pandemic in March, films set to be released in theaters during the COVID-19 era have been brought to streaming services in order to recuperate box office losses. Lorcan Finnegan’s 2020 sci-fi thriller Vivarium, released on Amazon Prime, demonstrates the resiliency of the film industry during this unprecedented time while providing an unexpectedly acute commentary on the isolation many of us have recently experienced.
The plot centers on a young couple, divinely played by Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, looking to purchase their first home. After an exhaustive search, they stumble into a new suburban development.
The houses in this suburban hellscape are all identical, and the pair quickly discovers that there are thousands of these forest green tract homes spanning a seemingly unending distance surrounding them.
Eisenberg and Poots become lost in suburbia, unable to find their way out of the neighborhood. After spending a night in one of the homes, they receive an unnerving gift: an infant. Attached to the infant’s crib is a note, reading, “Raise the child and you will be released.”
From there, the film takes on a surrealist tone as Poots and Eisenberg try to cope with their new life trapped inside the development with this odd child. However, their life is not without meaning.
In the house, Poots and Eisenberg fall into an off-putting semblance of normalcy. In fact, this normalcy is the true critique and symbolism of the film altogether. Poots comes into the role of a mother, despite the child’s overwhelming strangeness.
Though she resists this role at first, Poots is trapped not only in the development but in the crushing grip of suburbia. She is trapped in the societal role that womanhood has designated her, a role that suffocates her daily.
Eisenberg, for his own part, becomes a caricature of toxic masculinity. Once a gentle gardener, he simply digs. He digs a bottomless hole in the front yard, screaming and cursing whenever Poots tries to show him affection.
He smokes constantly and attempts to physically harm both Poots and their spooky child. Eisenberg, too, is trapped in the role of an unwilling father, and constantly reiterates the toxicity that often accompanies that.
Their deterioration waxes as the child grows at an alarming rate. The boy, never named, is truly the centerpiece of the film. His shrieking, odd repetitions and distasteful behaviors provide the suspense and drama that keeps the film from grinding down into the same boring normalcy on which it comments.
Beyond the obvious oddities of their tiny, new world lies a scathing critique of gender norms, suburban life and relationship routines. Vivarium shocks its audience with its grotesque depiction of reality, as well as its suspenseful mastery.
The acting, casting and overall beauty of the film will awe viewers who love to be kept in suspense. Vivarium is a film for anyone who needs to be pulled out of their own terrifyingly sane routine.
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